Thursday, January 21, 2010

Jody Strand Clinic.....Scary Behavior

Part 1

This is probably a good place to interject my opinion about why horses take the easy way out. Some people think the horse is trying to cheat us. I think the horse is doing what Mother Nature programmed it to do.

A horse's instincts govern its behavior. It eats, sleeps, runs, breeds and defends itself based on instinct. Because horses rely on foraging for food for sustenance, Mother Nature has dictated they conserve energy so as not to burn more energy than they calories they can consume. It is this instinct to use a little energy as possible that causes the horse to look for the easiest way out.

Doing collected work is ONLY the easiest way out if we have figured out how to make it that way. Otherwise evasions like hollowing out it's back, dropping a shoulder and evading the bit among others are the easiest way for the horse. If we don't block those escapes, the horse will take that easier path.

It did not take long to figure out that Jody Strand is very much a believer in this same concept. He does not believe that horses are bad or cheaters just to spite us, they do it because they haven't been taught any better. If a horse is avoiding doing what we are asking it's rooted in a lack of understanding. Given the opportunity to do it correctly, almost every horse will do so.

Again, it is easier than it sounds. A perfect example was a very nice Echo Magnificoo gelding at the clinic. The minute the rider led that horse into the ring he caught my eye. He was a pretty chestnut with a gorgeous eye. He carried himself like he was something special.

This horse had a serious problem. If I remember correctly when pushed, he not only reared but wanted to throw himself over backwards. Obviously Jody Strand was not going to get on a horse with such a dangerous habit and he was hesitant about the rider getting on him as well.

The rider, however, wanted to show Jody what she was dealing with. She got on the horse and ask him to go forward. As long as she didn't push him beyond what he was willing to give, the horse was fine. Anything beyond that point and the horse evaded the bit, threw his head and approached that dangerous point where he might rear. The rider, of course, was intimidated by this behavior as most any sane rider would be. Unfortunately that only reinforced the behavior of the horse. Acting in that manner got the woman to back off which, of course, was a release. The horse learned the behavior was successful at accomplishing less work so he continue it any time he was asked to give more.

When I think about dealing with rearing horses, I know I want to work them for the ground. Working a horse in the long lines is a much safer way to teach the horse what I want it to do than trying from the horses back.

Most horses cannot rear and go forward at the same time. Those that can, cannot sustain it for long. Teaching a rearing horse to go forward has been the solution for any horse I have worked who has used rearing as a form of escape.
Knowing that rearing is all about a horse NOT going forward, I wondered if the situation with this chestnut horse could be recreated in the long lines. if that was the case, utilizing ground driving could help correct this difficult behavior in this horse.

As Jody talked a little with the owner about what it would take to push the horse through this bad behavior, he apologized for the fact it might be and even probably would be dangerous. He emphasized he did not want anyone to get hurt but he also emphasized the horse needed to be pushed forward through its resistance. He recommended she get someone experienced to deal with this telling her the intimidation she rightly felt was contributing to their problem.

Then Jody Strand made one of those statements that you rarely ever hear in the horse world today from professional trainers. He told her, "Normally I would tell someone with a horse doing things like this to sell the horse and move on. BUT this horse is worth fixing. He is a talented beautiful horse and will be worth the effort put into fixing him."

I cannot even tell you how surprised I was to hear those words. Most trainers think horses are disposable commodities no matter how good they are. I've seen many a good horse tossed aside because a trainer didn't want to take the time to deal with it. It was a relief to know there are good trainers out there who think a quality horse should be given the extra time to fix what needs fixing.

At this point the prospect of using long lines was mentioned to Jody Strand. As the words came out, I could see the light dawn on Jody Strand's face. The next words out of his mouth were a request for long lines.

To be continued......................

The Red Horse Meets the Long Lines and Jody

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  1. I would also add, that horses will continue to seek the agreement you have made with them.

    IF you have allowed them to avoid connection, avoid coming through the back, avoid giving or releasing when asked, etc... they will continue to try to maintain the "agreement"

    As I am beginning collected work with my boy, I am getting resistance because "HEy - that's not the deal we have agreed to."

    Until he's willing to renegotiate, we have conflict (subtle to obvious, depending on the situation and the horse.)

    I'm asking him to renegotiate. He is certain that I am not sure due to my own lack of consistent skill at this level. So it takes MUCH convincing to get him to agree to change the terms of our partnership.

    That's probably just another way of restating your comment. I love this post, by the way. And I love your blog! I am sucked in!

  2. Interesting...I'm curious to hear more.
    I think rearing is one of the worst and scariest bad habits, because of the danger. I would be intimidated too. I can see how not pushing the horse positively rewarded his negative behavior.
    It's great Jody saw talent in this horse, and potential despite his issue!

  3. I think the reason a lot of trainers "move on" has to do with lack of knowledge or understanding of how to fix a problem. They are also up against time limits and upper end owners usually do not want them to slow down in the training process. The horse either fits the training schedule or they don't.

    It really takes the combined effort of the trainer and the owner. If either party is not willing to take the time to work through special issues or the trainer or owner does not have the knowledge it really is easier to move on to another project and sometimes is in the horse's best interest.

    But like you said, it's always refreshing to see someone who is willing to say that a particular horse is worth the effort. I've always said "The good ones are never easy"-LOL. That's not necessarily true. The good ones that are easy just don't flunk out the first time around.;)

  4. I agree with you and with Brown-Eyed Cowgirl. Speaking from first hand experience, I was horrified when my young horse began to rear while we were working with a trainer. The trainer blamed my horse, but I could see that the trainer had been so pleased with my mare's quick ability to learn that she had pushed her and confused her. I got rid of the trainer and we got rid of the problem. When a horse feels so desperate that her only way to tell us is to rear, we owe it to the horse to pay attention and relieve whatever is causing the problem - not blame the horse and get rid of it.